Dungeon Crawl Classic #7:
The Secret of Smuggler's Cove
Goodman Games is
an interesting company. It was one of the earlier d20 companies
around, and put out Broncosaurus Rex, a game of Cowboys and
Dinosaurs set in the far future (not to be confused with
Discosaurus Rex, a game about Lounge Lizards). While being pretty
much a completely unique and well done product, I'm not sure how
well it sold, so I think they shifted gears into producing other,
more generic d20 products. Including a line of old school modules
called "Dungeon Crawl Classics". They also are putting
out the new/old Blackmoor setting, which I think will debut at
Gen-Con). There were many similar startup companies that seemed
to exist to put out the game the author wanted to, but I think
this is one of the few that made the shift to other products so
successfully. Similarly, they are one of the only d20 companies
that still seem to make adventures, and seems to actually sell
them. Why? Apparently because of the old-school feel they go for.
Necromancer Games has the motto "3rd Edition Rules, 1st
Edition Feel", trying to imply their books are like the old
classic AD&D ones, but as many have noted, that's not really
true. While I have most of their modules, the feel is far more
modern, closer to 2nd edition. Their maps also tend to be
computer generated, and the art is generally done by Brian
LeBlanc. While he is probably my favorite artist d20 around, the
early TSR modules tended to have line drawings. His stuff is a
bit stylish, but very realistic looking. (Though one thing he
generally does, is have the same "party" of characters
in each illustration, like they were going through the module
themselves. Jim Holloway used to do that in the old TSR modules
A bit closer to the "1st Edition Feel" are the two
modules from Ed Cha and Open
World Press. These even copy the old style cover, though they
are perfect bound. However, while having some of the feel, they
are also very modern in outlook, focusing a lot more on
role-playing and such. Again, very good, but not quite the
classic feel. For example, in Oester,
you are given fairly detailed individual backgrounds/past
histories and personalities on a band of thugs that ambushes the
This line of modules, "Dungeon Crawl Classics",
do greatly resemble the old modules of old. At first glance, the
cover is almost identical to the design of the old TSR ones. It's
not exact, the art is a bit smaller, and there's a Goodman Games
logo instead of the TSR one, but it's very very close.
Upon opening the cover, the similarities continue. The old
modules would have the maps on the interior of the cover, white
on blue. This has the same thing, looking very very similar,
except the maps lack a key (which can be a bit confusing). The
interior layout and art styles are also very similar.
The only real difference is that the paper in this is much
thinner. The old modules used fairly heavy stock. The paper in
this is easily seen through. Also, many of the old modules had
pre-generated characters. This does not. Not all of the old
modules did, but that would have been a fun addition, I think.
This does seem to have the somewhat odd names for NPCs that are
found in the old TSR modules.
So I'm impressed at how old-school it feels. I can't believe I
didn't buy one of these until now. I'm a fairly big
adventure/module fan, but I generally prefer ones based around a
town. I think this is the first in the series that is, which is
actually what led me to buy it. That and as mentioned, they are
about the only ones making modules anymore. Even Necromancer
Games has largely shifted to huge, expensive, mini-adventure
settings like the Lost City of B.A. Barakus, which are
unfortunately out of my price range.
Getting on with it...
Secret of Smuggler's Cove" is perhaps not the most
original module in terms of basic theme, but is fairly original
in how it puts those themes together.
Basically, the PCs are hired to investigate a missing lighthouse
keeper. The townsfolk are afraid to do it themselves, because
they think it's haunted.
The upshot of it is, yes, it is haunted, but that's not the
dangerous part. As you might guess from the title, somehow
smugglers are involved. (Just what these smugglers smuggle, isn't
mentioned. ) Presumably, the PCs will not stop at the lighthouse,
and clean out the entire dungeon complex underneath.
While it is a Dungeon Crawl, but it's not one
big dungeon (or medium sized), but basically 5 small-ish ones.
The lighthouse itself, a deserted manor, the dungeon below said
manor, the Smuggler's Caves, and the caves of some fish-people.
There's a lot of "rooms" or encounters, almost 60 by my
It's all fairly logically done. And while I don't want to spoil
it ( a little hint - "The Fog" meets the Sinister
Secret of Saltmarsh), the plot actually makes sense.
The module is very well written and presented. You get a
description of each room (which you could read to players),
what's in the room itself, and any relevant information on
tactics the monsters would use, or the DCs that the PCs might
have to roll against, for traps or spotting things and such.
I also liked how the author gave class levels to many of the
monsters/opponents. Beyond the fact that this makes the monsters
unpredictable, power wise (since players don't always expect
monsters with classes), it makes scaling the adventure easier -
you can take away or give levels fairly easily. (This adventure
is for 5-7th level characters, but does have tips on how to scale
Obviously, as a Dungeon Crawl, it's a bit
lacking when it comes to NPCs that aren't meant to be killed
(this is actually used as a selling point), but there is a town
(Fair Haven) detailed briefly (just a few shops and such) with a
few friendly NPCs. And there are a couple prisoners in the
dungeons themselves which may or may not be friendly in the long
run, much like the old classic modules had NPCs that you weren't
completely sure of.
The layout is pretty straight forward. Pretty much consisted
entirely of keyed entries for the maps.
The art is all retro in style, and all pretty good. There are 9
pieces of art in 36 pages (3 pages of maps and 1 page for the OGL
round out the book), which seems to be about the standard ratio
(1:4), but all the pieces except one are fairly small. There is
also no coherence between the pictures, since they were done by 3
The maps are nice and clean, easy to read. Like I said, they
largely emulated the old TSR map style, which is very easy to
read. There are some frills to the maps, additional details, some
of which aren't obvious what they are, because there is no map
key for symbols.
It's really hard to find anything wrong with the module. The
only real concern I have have is over one magic item/encounter
(and this isn't really a spoiler, because you can see an
illustration of it on the product page). Apparently (though this
isn't clearly stated, so I'm not sure), one of the items in the
dungeon underneath the manor is an "Iron Flask",
complete with inhabitant. This is meant to be something of a
trap. However, the "Iron Flask" is also one of the most
expensive magical items around, weighing in at 170,000 gp. Though
actually, I've never understood if the Iron Flask forced the
critter back into the bottle at the end of the hour, thus being
re-usable (getting an hour of service from the critter each day),
or just worked once, then the critter took off. If it's the
latter, I don't see why the thing is so desirable. (The original
DMG didn't list a price, but pretty much contains the same exact
Still, while it's very good, it's not amazing. It's a very
journeyman-like effort - the pieces all fit together, it's
plausible, it's complete, but it's not especially memorable. Not
that this is a bad thing, very few of the old TSR modules were
like that, but enough so that I only give it a B+,
not an A. (When I get around to running it, and it is an A, I'll
write a playtest review and give it one)
As a side note, you could also easily adapt it to a Call of
Cthulhu adventure. Just change the fish-people to Deep Ones, and
the smugglers to bootleggers.